Michael Jackson is Back. But For How Long?
After the wholesale failures of HIStory and Dangerous, and his increasing reliance on foreign sales receipts to purchase Neverland’s animal feed, it seemed unlikely that Michael Jackson would ever again rise to Thriller levels in the hearts, minds, and dancing feet of Americans. In fact, Jackson’s tenuous grip to his King of Pop throne was seemingly strengthened only by screaming throngs of Japanese schoolgirls (always an impressionable lot — remember, this is the same demographic that went rabid for teen albums by Alyssa Milano and Alanis Morrissette…) and the occasional US fan who, most likely, was also an avid watcher of “Wings” and “Coach” — two long-running sitcoms that no one ever admitted to actually viewing. Nevertheless, Invincible, the latest unassumingly-titled effort by Michael Jackson — and his first new studio album since 1992 — will debut at #1 on next week’s Billboard chart, bolstered by first-week sales of over 360,000 units. Taking into consideration the prevailing cultural view of Jackson as a guy just a few slices short of a loaf, his new album’s early success might suggest it a new name — Inconceivable.
Even his stable of high-priced producers admit the difficulty in navigating the hills and valleys of Jackson’s oeuvre to discover the trail to success with today’s youth. “It’s real weird to see a new generation accepting Mike,” said Rodney Jerkins, guru producer of Brandy, Britney, and now The Gloved One. “That was the mission for all of us [while making the album]: ‘How do we get the younger kids?'” And Jerkins didn’t mess around. His beats for Invincible’s lead single “You Rock My World” find Michael Hee-Hee’ing and Shah-mon’ing over a punchy backing track and a great mid-song loop that will definitely blow up in the clubs. And yet, if you dropped Blu Cantrell or R.Kelly vocals onto the track, it would be just as successful. Despite the best efforts of Jerkins and his hotshot mates, there’s nothing in Jackson’s new work that is as seamless as his 80s heyday. An invisible barrier separates Michael’s trademark MS-DOS vocal delivery from his albums’ Windows XP production techniques, making communication between the two impossible. The hype is in place, sure. There’s a longform music video with big Hollywood stars and extended dance moves. Chris Tucker stops by for a skit or two. And there’s a promotional budget that overtakes the GNP of Finland. But at the heart of it all is a frail-looking eccentric who — whether by his excesses or idiosyncrasies, scandals or disappearing acts — has distanced himself from, er, himself, as well as the American Pop audience.
There’s a pained look in George W Bush’s eyes when he addresses “the ‘maircun people.” He puts on a brave face and makes a go of it, but you get the feeling that he’d rather be back at the D.C. Hooters, pounding hot wings and grabbing waitresses’ asses. It’s similar with Michael Jackson. He’s appeared on the VMAs, TRL, concert specials, and has even waved to his fans (seriously — where did they all come from?) in Times Square. But watching his expression shift from grimace, to sweet smile, to glazed fear, and back to bashful grimace, you can’t shake the notion that The King of Pop would much rather be feeding the goats back at Neverland, or at least hanging out in ultra-moderne downtown Tokyo, where even a swan-clad Bjork wouldn’t get a second look.
He might not have to worry about it much longer.
Invincible‘s big daddy status might not last longer than a few weeks. Britney’s shitstorm of a new album will likely sucker punch Jackson with a giant boxing glove shaped like a dollar sign. After all, Jive Records/Spears have at least as much money as Michael, and they didn’t have to pay off Tito to appear on that Jackson 5 reunion special. It will be interesting to see how long Jackson’s newfound connection to today’s record-buying youth lasts. Because even when he tries to be, Michael just isn’t like the other guys.
Jam on it.